Top defence candidates to be moved ahead of NHL trade deadline

It's a buyer's market out there this year, but with the demand for defensive depth always high, might this be the position where we see the most movement at the NHL trade deadline?

Anything can happen at the deadline — especially in a year as unpredictable as this, with a handful of teams still straddling the line between contending and not. But as we near 3 p.m. ET on Monday, here's a group of rearguards we're keeping an extra close eye on.

All contract information can be sourced to

Josh Manson, Anaheim Ducks

Age: 29
Cap hit: $4.1 million (still under contract for 2021-22)

If Manson is not moved at the deadline, it likely won't be for lack of teams calling and trying to pry him away. With the Ducks leaning into their rebuild, they are motivated to sell -- but with a player like Manson, who's still under contract for one more year at $4.1 million, this doesn't feel like a deal they need to rush on if the right buyer doesn't come along before the deadline. He's a great fit with the Ducks' lineup, but he may not be a great fit with what this team is looking to accomplish with a youth movement afoot.

Manson's term provides good value for a solid defender who can play a physical game, but it might actually prevent some teams from calling. As GMs like Toronto's Kyle Dubas have indicated, there's a hesitancy to add money beyond this year due to the flat cap. Still, one more year of a strong defender at $4.1 million has to be appealing to, say, a Florida or Carolina — both of whom have been rumoured to be eying a right-shot D.

Manson missed a big chunk of time this season with an oblique injury and has been limited to just 14 games. After a setback in early March, he's now been back in the lineup for two weeks and looks good. Manson does have some control here, as his modified no-trade clause allows him to submit a list of 12 no-trade destinations.

Vince Dunn, St. Louis Blues

Age: 24
Cap hit: $1.875 million (pending RFA)

This one feels like it might be a bit of a stretch, and certainly wouldn't be your typical rental scenario — he's a pending RFA, after all — but the Blues are in a tough spot and you have to wonder if GM Doug Armstrong is going to shake things up a little in an effort to jolt his team back into contention.

Dunn has long been projected as a promising young part of this blue line, but this hasn't been a smooth relationship of late. He's been vocal about wanting a larger role, but has struggled when given one, and a contract stand-off that ended in a one-year deal on Dec. 31 means another negotiation lies ahead, and this one has all the makings of a change-of-scenery coming. Young offensive-minded d-men with a cap hit under $2 million aren't often up for grabs on the trade market, and he might just be the Blues' ticket to getting a goal-scorer or recouping some assets. With plenty of assets and some newfound cap flexibility, might Montreal be calling?

Dmitry Kulikov, New Jersey Devils

Age: 30
Cap hit: $1.15 million (pending UFA)

The New Jersey Devils have dealt away their two most eligible forwards in Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. Might they now be shipping out a few blue-liners? Of those most eligible, Kulikov is a no-brainer. He's got a low cap hit and fits the bill of a rental depth defenceman that we so often see moved at the deadline, and he's on a team that's motivated to sell.

Two more Devils to watch: Sami Vatanen (age 29, $2M cap hit) and Ryan Murray (age 27, $4.6M cap hit) are both pending UFAs that could move.

Alex Goligoski, Arizona Coyotes

Age: 35
Cap hit: $5.475 million (pending UFA)

General manager Bill Armstrong is sitting in a tough spot right now. The Coyotes are currently in playoff position. Stay in that fourth spot, and you're running into the league's best team in the Colorado Avalanche with little chance of survival. Sell a few pieces in an effort to recoup some desperately-needed assets for a rebuild, and you're sending the worst kind of message to your players who've fought this hard and the fans rooting them on.

Should he choose to make some deals, a player like defenceman Goligoski could be a rental candidate. The pending UFA is heating up, putting together a five-game assist streak within the past 10 days. He's got a heavy cap hit, though, and a modified NTC that allows him to provide eight no-trade teams. Niklas Hjalmarsson, if he can get healthy, could be one to watch as well.

Jamie Oleksiak, Dallas Stars

Age: 28
Cap hit: $2.1375 million (pending UFA)

If you're a Leafs fan, thought No. 8 of Elliotte Friedman's latest edition of 31 Thoughts piqued your interest:

If Toronto decides to go for a depth defender, I could see Dallas’s Jamie Oleksiak being a consideration.

Like the Blues, the Stars are a powerful, playoff-ready team that is simply underperforming. No one player is responsible for that, of course — a tough COVID outbreak, a brutal winter storm in the area, and injuries have all factored in heavily here, and Dallas has responded admirably. But, also like the Blues, maybe a jumpstart is needed here before it's too late. A pending UFA who's been traded away and brought back before, Oleksiak could be a strong candidate with a decent market.

Marc Staal, Detroit Red Wings

Age: 34
Cap hit: $5.7 million (pending UFA)

Trading a $5.7-million cap hit in this climate? That seems impossible. But maybe there's some massaging that gets this deal done.

Bringing in veteran experience is always a smart move, and you've got to believe Staal would welcome a chance to contend again and waive his no-move clause. With Detroit's cap flexibility, the club is one of just a few that could leverage salary retention — and even take on more of a cap hit for other assets — at the right price as part of any potential deals.

Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators

Age: 30
Cap hit: $3.75 million (still under contract for 2021-22)

So you're saying there's a chance...

Honestly, probably not. But considering how many trade bait lists he topped just a month ago, it feels like he's still worth mentioning here at the bottom. Just in case. An incredible win streak completely changed Nashville's fortunes, altering GM David Poile's priorities heading down the stretch as the Predators went from being considered this year's deadline "king-makers" to a team that's going to chase the crown themselves. Ekholm still has one more year on his contract, which makes him both more and less desirable as a deadline acquisition — perhaps he's dealt this summer around the expansion draft instead? — considering teams might be hesitant to add term right now. But if the price is right for Poile, do you think he makes this move?


David Savard, Columbus Blue Jackets

Age: 30
Cap hit: $4.25 million (pending UFA)

Savard was traded to Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Another Blue Jacket to keep an eye on: Michael Del Zotto, 30, could fill a depth role for a team anticipating a long and gruelling playoff run. His $700,000 cap hit is certainly enticing.

Brandon Montour, Buffalo Sabres

Age: 26
Cap hit: $3.85 million (pending UFA)

Montour was traded to Florida on Saturday.

Another Sabre who could be on the move: Colin Miller has one more year remaining on his contract at $3.875 million per. The 28-year-old right-shot rearguard would be a strong candidate for a depth role on a contender.

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